Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Lesson in Arab Culture

י"ח לחודש השנים עשר תשע"ד

Yesterday morning, I got on the bus to work as usual, albeit a little later than usual, as I had to run some errands first. The seat available was next to an Arab.

OK. Big deal.

However, my seat mate next to the window was taking up much more than his allotted half of the space.

No big deal. I'll just politely ask him to scoot over, right?


After waiting a couple of minutes, to make sure that he would not withdrawn, not out of anger, but simply and quite nonchalantly I conquered the half to which I was entitled to, the part which was mine, and not his. I pushed into him with my body, as if he wasn't even there. After all shouldn't have been there, on my half, on my territory. He was not obese, so he could not use that as an excuse. He simply would not move.

As Arabs tend to have much less of an issue with personal space between men, than Americans or British, I just sat there with the left side of my body firmly embedded in the right side of his. Eventually, he relented, and brought his knees slightly closer to one another, and scooted in a tad. But, his person was still encroaching on my territory.

I decided to leave it alone. After all, I need to take under consideration the "reality on the ground," and "to choose my shots." You know, I really feel like I am going to scream, if I ever hear those clichés again,...even when I say them!

Nonetheless, this is what I did. I left it alone.

I did not get in his face, and tell him to be thankful that I even allowed him to continue sitting next to me.

I did not threaten to throw him on the ground, if he did not immediately move his tuchus.

But, maybe I should have. Years ago, a friend of mine was working in a store in Jerusalem. He was having difficulties dealing with the rude and disruptive behavior of the Arab workers in the neighborhood who would come in during their lunch hour. That included gawking at Jewish women, a definite red line, if there ever was one.

Then one day, there happened to be a native Israeli shopping in the store, who saw how the Arabs were behaving. He threatened them with throwing them down on the ground. The Arabs ceased, and took several days before returning to their default behaviors of disruption and tuchus-gawking.

In 1948, and again in 1967, Israel claimed defending Eretz Yisra'el (the Land of Israel), in the face of possible annihilation of the Jewish People. After "throwing the Arabs on the ground," the Arabs got up, and their applications for jobs at Jewish owed companies increased dramatically overnight. The Jews were here to stay, and the Arabs received that message, loud and clear.

Once when I was standing in line at Jerusalem City Hall, an Arab woman seemed to be cutting in front of me. In Hebrew, I asked her what the heck she thought she was doing. She said something in Arabic. I quickly raised my hand, as if to threaten her with a good ol' fashioned New York smack. We don't "smack" in California. We smile at you, and then when you're not expecting it, we stab you in the back,...just proverbially, of course.

But, I digress...

This Arab woman did not even flinch, probably because she has gotten used to this gesture being flaunted at her by men, Arab men. She just kept saying the same word in Arabic, she had been saying before, which I later learned was the word for "first." I figured out that, mostly due to her lack of Hebrew, that she was in line for the Arabic speaking clerk. I did not apologize. I turned back around, looking only slightly perturbed. Why should she go before me? If it's my turn, and the Arabic speaking clerk happens to be available, why can't I take my turn with him, knowing that he speaks Hebrew?

Doesn't sound fair, you say? No, perhaps it doesn't, not in a Western culture that is. Let her go to the only clerk who speaks her language, and wait for one of the eight others to become available. But, wait, there weren't any Russian speakers pushing to the front of the line to speak with the Russian speaking clerk. I should know, because I had to come back again with my Russian speaking roommate, and we waited for the Russian speaking clerk, so that he could speak with her in Russian, and I could speak to her in Hebrew. My roommate did not get any special dispensation.

While living in the Shomron (Samaria), in K'far Tapu'ah, to be specific, I learned even more about Arab culture. Originally founded by Yemenites, K'far Tapu'ah was not the so-called, right-wing "extremist" town you might have thought it was, and hasn't been for years. In my opinion, that is unfortunate. Regardless of the hashqafah (perspective), I was able to learn quite a bit about how to interact with Arabs. These included not being the first to break eye-contact, not moving out of the way of an Arab's path, whether there was plenty of room to pass or not, and the elaborate interactions between the older Yemenites who spoke Arabic and the Arabs from the neighboring villages. Smiling, hugging, and kissing were involved, and then my Yemenite neighbor would turn to tell me how they handled those "lying crooks" in a business deal or simple trade.

Sure, I would not want to do anything to support an Arab and his family financially, by doing business with them. But, it has been my experience that gathering information is never a mistake. For example, when the Israeli Government finally follows through on abandoning the "settlers" to fend for themselves under increased Arab, and possibly American, occupation, it would be good to know whom I will have to fight with over the springs, the closest sources of water.

But, I digress...

Back to the bus, I was more effective at dealing with that Arab than most Israelis, and most all American-Israelis. Although some of those "hot-headed" yeshiva bochurim, considered at risk for going "off the derech," and thus sent to special, Israeli yeshivas to "get fixed," should not be discounted. These young men are highly underestimated, and their passion often misinterpreted. All they need are their questions on Torah and spirituality answered to their satisfaction, with some additional guidance thrown in for good measure.

But, again, I digress...

As effective as I was in the short-term, perhaps all I really accomplished with this Arab for the long-term was just like the same sort of half-ass intervention of the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] in Lebanon or Azza. When the international community tells us to pull out, we pull out, and the Arabs go back to doing push-ups, and smuggling in arms for the next encounter with Israel, which lately has always begun with missiles from the north of from the south, Arab missiles, not Israeli ones.

Jewish lives are sacrificed for the sake of Arab lives; Jewish lives are sacrificed for the sake of "what will the non-Jewish neighbors say?!" (ie. the international community)
משנה אבות ב,יט [טז] הוא [רבי טרפון] היה אומר, לא עליך כל המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל.

Mishnah Avoth 2:19 He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say, you are not obligated to finish a task, but you are not free to quit in the middle...
For those of you who will insist that Rabbi Tarfon was referring only to Torah study, I will recommend that you do just that, study what the Torah, including HaZa"L, has to say about Arabs.

Meanwhile, in the "progressive," Caucasian, West, they are blind, desperately trying to force an Arab "square peg" into the "circular slot" of Western culture, all the while denying it, and calling those of who truly understand Arab culture, and even respecting the Arabs' unique roles on this earth, are called none other than "racist."

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